Round Up!

Rounding up your IT asset management.

17 January 2006

Interview: Jim Macnamara, BSAA (Part 1/3)

Jim Macnamara doesn't want you to think he's out to get you ... no really, he doesn't. As Chairman of the Business Software Association of Australia (BSAA), he points out that “eighty to ninety percent of our activity is focused on education, and what we call 'management assistance', which is promoting tools and strategies for things such as SAM, and focussing on software as assets that need to be managed in an organised way.”

The BSAA has a reputation of being the “software police” in Australia, with headlines like “Software: Pirate hunters swoop” and “Copyright: No longer a soft touch”, reinforcing this negative perception. Their submissions during the drafting of the recent AUSFTA also helped highlight their interest in protecting the commercial goals of software vendors.

Directors and other senior executives must realise that it is they who are responsible for the proper use of information and communication technology.
Jim points out that if the BSAA had been intended to be purely software police, then they would have chosen a lawyer, rather than a communications consultant for the role. However, from the very first meeting it was decided that communication and education should be a major part of the BSAA's role. Jim should know, he attended the first BSAA meeting in 1989 and has been the Chairman ever since. But he is not just involved because of his communications experience, he is also CEO of a computer-aided research company with over 30 employees, several software products and a publishing arm.

As someone who has written books and developed software programs Jim's firsthand experience of the importance of intellectual property issues such as software licensing means he has a legitimate interest in seeing intellectual property protected, especially copyright.

While the recent changes to the Copyright Act 1968 (due to the AUSFTA) can be seen as aimed at rogue IT managers, Jim says “the real message is for company directors.” Indeed he says they “often find that IT managers are struggling because they are endeavouring to implement systems, but there is not a recognition above them, at senior management level, that these things need to be managed.”

Indeed the BSAA has tried to get the message out, even going so far as to organise an AICD Director's Briefing (Software: Is your business breaking the law?) for October last year, to educate company directors as to the ramifications of the recent changes to the Copyright Act. It was not a pure BSAA event, independent experts were presenting and company directors that had experienced the benefits of software asset management (SAM) firsthand, were available to answer questions. The briefing would have helped raise the awareness amongst company directors of the seriousness of the changes, yet it was cancelled because of a complete lack of interest!

“if you’re not managing these assets, then human nature is such that someone in your organisation is probably copying illegally, that’s just human nature, it occurs through mistakes, it occurs through ignorance.”
I asked Jim what he saw as the reason for this response from company directors. “Perhaps this reflects that SAM, or ITAM, is not on the radar of company directors and senior management, they see this as an IT responsibility, but IT can only manage it if they have the responsibility, resources and budget to do that. That has to come from senior management.”

Many might argue that their organisation is not involved in illegal software use, either due to the professionalism of their IT staff, or the integrity of their business leaders, and so a formal SAM program is unnecessary. Jim sees it differently, “if you’re not managing these assets, then human nature is such that someone in your organisation is probably copying illegally, that’s just human nature, it occurs through mistakes, it occurs through ignorance.” The bottom line is that “if you don’t have [controls and mechanisms] there’s a 90% chance we believe that you’ll have unlicensed software and if you leave it for a long time that will accumulate and you’re probably risking at least civil action, and potentially criminal action against the company’s directors.”

Policing and enforcement of the new Copyright Act is something I will cover in more detail in the third part of my interview with Jim, but we discussed the fact that criminal prosecution is only likely in the most serious of cases. In that case, it is almost certain that a company director would be facing criminal charges, and the sort of humiliation the directors of HIH faced when their financial shenanigans were made public. Depending upon the situation, it would certainly affect a company's share price, and possible even deal a fatal blow to the market's trust in that organisation.

Jim is quick to stress that there are important positive effects of implementing SAM. Companies that have implemented SAM have experienced reduced costs associated with:
  • Reduced need to support desktops that have often had non-standard (sometimes cracked) applications installed

  • Lower internet usage due to fewer internet radio and filesharing downloads.

  • Improved productivity due to the removal of unwanted games and entertainment software.

  • Lower software license costs due to a better understanding of what the business actually requires.

  • Better negotiating position with major software vendors.
There are also security considerations when not tracking installed and used software. Jim points out that “if you don’t use software asset management it’s like leaving the back-door of your business open electronically.” As IT security has become a much more important topic today than even just a few years ago, companies are finding that implementing a proper SAM program also gives them a better handle on the security threats they face, and allows them to remove security weaknesses created by improperly configured or installed software, and bad user habits.

That wraps up this first part of the my interview with Jim Macnamara, in the second part I will cover the negative effect that a high piracy rate has on local software developers.


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